Last night, I listened to one of the more interesting conversations I have been involved in lately. The discussion concerned the eternal decree. I have no intention of retreading the strength and weaknesses of my infralapsarian position, so relax. The issue had not been presented to me in proper context before as it should have been, perhaps because I did not understand the conditions of the discussion. The key factor is the issue of timelessness. Last spring, the issue of timelessness and the application of this concept to eschatology by Pannenberg was an enlightening moment, and quite persuasive, I might add. So, it seemed quite logical to apply the same concept of timelessness to the eternal decree, in fact, in retrospect, how else would you do it?!
Let’s examine first the paradigm that is overriding this discussion. We have two realms, two realities, two Kingdoms. The First realm is the realm of God. In this realm of God, He is timeless, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent. The second realm is creation. It is helpful to consider that if space is created, so is the linear (calm down physicists) aspect of time. Even if you want to discuss curved space time, quantum physics and time travel, there is an aspect of time that is in constant motion, that is inseparable from the concept of space. Time is the fourth dimension. Time is as much a part of space and creation as matter and energy. This is a key point to bring forward into the discussion of the eternal decree.
For the purpose of review and to introduce the parts of the eternal decree, let us consider as example the infralapsarian position. The eternal decree is ordered as follows:
- · Decree to create
- · Decree to allow the fall of man (all men)
- · Decree to discriminate or for the election of some men
- · Decree to save the elect by Christ
- · Decree to apply salvation in Christ to the elect
Several book keeping points need stating. First, infralapsarianism is a Calvinist position, an in house discussion, if you will. The purpose of this discussion is not to argue the issue of the elect. I could have taken the example of the eternal decree from the Amyraldian position instead as the example, but I don’t find that helpful in the long term in my persuasion to a reformed position to use other arguments as my example. But what follows works with ANY of the versions of the eternal decree. Second, and most importantly, this ordering is a logical order, not a chronological order.
That this is a logical ordering is the point from which we will carry forward. The issue concerning the eternal decree is to look at the mind of God prior to creation and try and understand what He was thinking when he got around to creation. The point that we need to insert here is that time is a part of creation, but not a part of the realm of God. God is outside of time. There is a great creaturely temptation to deal with discussions of the eternal decree in chronological fashion, but this is an error. The discussion is in terms of logical ordering and needs to be emptied of any notion of chronological ordering. The reason for this distinction is important in other areas of theological discussion, but it should be kept in mind here as a fundamental principle of the eternal decree.
This is difficult, of course, for the creaturely mind to comprehend. The creature is created within the space-time continuum where time is part of the fabric of our existence. This is why Calvin warns us against actually contemplating this issue. This decree is outside of the realm of creatures and outside of progressive revelation as given us in Scripture. But in our creaturely desire to understand the divine, we make this attempt.
Finally, we come to the meat of this discussion: creation. The Genesis 1-2 text has been discussed abundantly, and with particular zeal over the past couple of years within the context of the BioLogos debate. If you recall, the cornerstone of the BioLogos position is that science is not at odds with Scripture in the creation debate. Their rationalizations are interesting, but miss this key theological point. God exists and creation occurs. God is outside of time and time is an inextricable part of creation. This is important for the Genesis discussion precisely because of the issue of time.
Back in 1954, Meredith Kline proposed the two register approach to this text. The key feature of this construct was to view the Genesis text as a separate literary genre, creation genre, rather than a historical narrative as most of the conversation about this text tends to do. I have given this link many times in the past, and hopefully it will work for you, but here is the updated Kline article from four decades later. The reason that this view of Genesis appeals to me so much is the following logical construct.
If we assume that the eternal decree is outside of time, because God is outside of time, then the decree to create is outside of time. The logical ordering of creation will likewise be outside of time. Scripture is by its very existence within creation is God’s revelation to man and subject to the confines of space time. But this does not mean that God would reveal to man a logical construct that takes place outside of time with the intention of the application of chronological principles to that revelation. It makes far better sense to consider the Genesis 1-2 text within the timelessness of God’s realm. God introduces time as a part of creation. Logical order of creation takes place prior to creation. Logically, one must first conceive of a thing before one makes a thing. This is not true of God in a timeless realm, but it is impossible to convey logical order without the danger of perception within a chronological order within the realm of creation.
Perhaps the very issues of apparent contradiction seen between the two chapters are meant to point exactly to the issue of logical order and not to chronological order. Only by their difference does Scripture draw attention to the notion that it is the revelation of creation ORDER and not a creation TIMELINE that is revealed in Genesis 1-2. The important issue of the Genesis 1-2 text is the position or role of man in the creation order. The eternal decree that includes creation is outside of time, and time is only introduced into creation at the point of creation. A revelation of the eternal order of our role within creation should be viewed from the context of the eternal decree and not from the view within creation itself. That is the fallacy of using chronological arguments in this portion of divine revelation.
It can be argued to extend this point to Genesis 3, but that is a massively huge jump, and one that cannot be made with any sort of certainty. The notion of Adam and Eve as archetypes of humanity rather than their human primacy does seem to fit with the logical argument of the prior chapters. The expulsion from Eden would mark the beginning of historical narrative, their entering into that portion of creation that is no longer both in this realm and the realm of God and thereby subject to the rule of time. The Kline literary framework model does not include the Eden section, but I would argue that it may well belong with the prior chapters rather than with the subsequent.
So, in summary, the arguments for Calvinism and the extra-Biblical eternal decree lead one logically to a view of the creation revelation Scripture to be viewed in a similar logical ordering model rather than a chronological ordering model. This is consistent both with inerrancy and infallibility as we are viewing the text (correctly) in a proper context using the framework paradigm. This view of Genesis 1-2 as logical ordering allows the position that science and Genesis 1-2 are not contradictory.